Photograph by Mark Ralston — AFP/Getty Images

The company is trying harder to address driver annoyances.

By Kia Kokalitcheva
June 6, 2016

Uber’s proposed $100 million settlement for two high-profile lawsuits by drivers are still winding through court, but that’s not stopping the ride-hailing company from rolling out new driver-friendly features.

On Monday, Uber unveiled new perks for drivers including the ability to pick up passengers during their own commute, a button to pause ride requests, and instant payments for drivers. These follow a redesign of the driver app by company last year.

Uber is trying to make life easier for drivers amid lawsuits that it has misclassified them as contractors and failed to address a number of annoyances. In proposing a settlement for those suits in April, the company said that it would help drivers form local guild-like associations (not unions) and clarify its policy on tipping so that riders don’t assume they can’t tip, for example.

“We also have heard from drivers like you that there are plenty of things we can do to make driving more empowering and worth your while,” Uber product managers Maya Choksi and Ryan Fujiu wrote in a blog post Monday.

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Other new perks include some ride discounts for drivers who also use the service as passengers, more support staff for drivers, and charging passengers after a two-minute wait, which Uber recently tested in a few cities. Uber will keep drivers updated about all of its programs via a new blog called “Behind the Wheel,” the company said.

Many of the features Uber introduced had already been available to drivers with rival ride-hailing service Lyft. That company has long courted drivers by inviting them to its offices to celebrate company milestones and helping them organize their own meetups, providing a feature inside its app to make it easy for riders to add a tip, both of which Uber has only recently added.

For example, Lyft drivers have been able to set their own destination (work or the grocery story, for example) and only receive ride requests that fit their itinerary since November 2014. Uber drivers are only now getting the feature after the company tested it in a few cities.

Of course, Uber hasn’t always lagged behind Lyft. It released a program for limited gas discounts last summer, months before Lyft’s partnership with Shell, and both companies debuted their carpooling service at the same time in 2014. But its increased efforts to appear more driver-friendly are a newer trend.

With that said, it’s not clear how much Uber’s latest moves can prevent driver anger over fare cuts. Earlier this year, both Uber and Lyft slashed their fares in dozens of cities, immediately raising driver concerns about hurting their earnings as such cuts have done in the past. Although Uber has said that it rolls back fare cuts if it determines that they failed to increase ridership, many drivers insist that their earning are still too low.

Last week, Uber made headlines for another controversial move when it revealed it has raised $3.5 billion in new funding from Saudi Arabia’s main investment fund and welcomed one of its managing directors to its board. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive and therefore would not be able to do so for Uber.

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